One of the highlights of my move to Vancouver was experiencing shared dining in its finest form: the potluck. It’s a neat concept that entails sharing your dish of home-cooked meals with other locals at an outdoor space, the location of which is kept secret until the last minute, making the experience even more spontaneously fun!.
The organization that puts these on is called Alfresco, and was introduced to me by one of its creators, Rob MacDonald. I carefully combed through the website looking for dollar signs: how was this event making money? I kept looking for a catch that was never there.
Ok, let’s get cookin’ for the Vancouver potluck with strangers!
When I decided to participate, true to tradition, the secret location was disclosed the night before (Alfresco is modeled after Parisian white suppers). Also true to tradition I didn’t start cooking until the last possible second. I went with my nanny’s mac and cheese recipe since it is the only thing I can make without burning. Not knowing how many people would be coming I doubled the batch just to be safe. I loaded 5 casserole dishes to the brim, sprinkled the Panko and…..The unthinkable happened. My stove broke.
Well maybe not broke…there’s a good chance it never worked. That’s when I started knocking…hoping (praying) that one of my new neighbours would open their door and lend me their oven. It’s funny what your mind goes through at that time: I could always pick up something from Whole Foods and put it in Tupperware claiming it as my own. Or what if I just scoop off the uncooked Panko….would it really taste that bad? Sure enough Katie (who I had never met) opened the door and was happy to pop 4 trays in the oven. Way to go community!
The experience: communal food sharing on the beach shores of Vancouver
My first Al Fresco was on the seawall near 2nd beach. I was pleasantly surprised to see a long white wave-like table created by Molo that weaved around natural imperfections in the picturesque landscape we were surrounded by. Mason Jars in white bags housed candles framing our impromptu supper that looked more like a photo shoot for a magazine than the guerilla potluck it was. I sat down on my little recycled disk and laid out my spread amongst dishes that looked as if they were pulled straight off of all my favourite shows on the Food Network. I started to secretly wish I had made something more interesting when the first person approached and said, “Hey guys get over here someone made mac and cheese and it looks sooooo good”.
A group of almost 100 came together sharing meals, stories and a passion for community and our city. My favourite part was watching complete strangers turn into friends in an abundant sea of home cooked goodness. It was one of those nights that you never wanted to end but secretly you knew that if it didn’t end you would likely explode after trying a spoonful of every unique contribution.
I quickly learned that Rob and his friend, well known Vancouver entrepreneur Scott Hawthorn, started this event with a goal of creating a gathering to encourage locals to explore and use Vancouver’s unique urban spaces. Another beautiful reason to follow these innovative eco-preneurs is that Alfresco leaves no carbon footprint .
What started out as a 50- person guerilla dining club has evolved into a sought after community dinner club that ‘sells out’ within minutes. Check out their press and following here: http://www.alfrescotonight.com/press.html
Oli is the Community Manager for ethicalDeal. She is a passionate eco-writer, photographer and lover of food.